Lawrence Research Poll: Mormon Presidential Candidates Face Bias

Sep 06, 2011, 10:31 ET from Lawrence Research

But National Poll Reveals Prejudice is Not That Deep

SANTA ANA, Calif.., Sept. 6, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Newly released poll results indicate that a generic Mormon faces a 7-to-15% anti-Mormon bias among voters, but a specific Mormon, such as Mitt Romney, fares better than those findings might suggest.

Pollster Gary Lawrence, whose firm conducted a July nationwide poll of 905 registered voters among a broader sample of 1000 adults, said his study confirmed the previously measured bias:

  • The traditional wording asks whether the respondent would vote for a generally well-qualified person the voter's own party has nominated if the nominee happens to be of a particular religion.  Gallup's Yes-No numbers over the years for a Mormon range from a high of 80-17 to a low of 72-24.  Lawrence Research's July study measured a 58-point difference (74-16), a little more optimistic than Gallup's 54-point difference (76-22) taken in June.
  • Lawrence's poll also asked voters to what extent they would consider voting for a person of a specific religion.  Five times as many voters would never consider voting for a Mormon (20%) as compared to a Catholic or a Baptist (4%).  As for support, 50% would definitely consider a Catholic and 47% a Baptist, but only 30% would definitely consider a Mormon.

However, while such results have been touted as an uphill battle for Mormons running for office, other questions demonstrate these generic measures may not be that important.  

"If religion played a big role in the vote decision, more people could correctly identify candidates' religions," Lawrence said. "While 85% of voters have heard of Mitt Romney, only 41% know he is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, aka Mormon, despite considerable publicity.  Only 11% and 6% respectively know that Jon Huntsman, Jr. and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are also Mormons."  

Similarly, the survey found that 7% of voters correctly identify Michelle Bachman's evangelical Lutheranism, and merely 1% know Rick Perry is a Methodist.  Further confusion: 17% still think Barack Obama is a Muslim.

"Those aren't numbers that suggest passionate interest," Lawrence said.

Other indicators:

  • The 41% who know Romney's religion are 13 points more likely to vote for a Mormon than are those who do not know his religion, which demonstrates that the bias against a faceless Mormon doesn't stand up when an actual Mormon enters the picture.  Being a Mormon is not the hindrance for Romney some analysts have supposed, and may be a plus.
  • Of those who said they would never consider voting for a Mormon, only half stuck by that position when asked if they would vote for a Mormon who is a well-qualified nominee of their party, another indicator that the anti-Mormon bias is not that deep.  

A hardcore group of about 10% will never vote for a Mormon, but for the rest of the nation, a candidate's membership in this increasingly visible religion is not a salient factor in the vote decision.  

Full results from Dr. Lawrence's national study may be found in his latest book Mormons Believe … What?!  Fact and Fiction About a Rising Religion to be released September 22nd.

Gary Lawrence (Ph.D., Stanford) has been a public opinion pollster for 40 years.  He is a Mormon who is uncommitted in the presidential race.

Methodology:  Random-digit-dialed sample, July 6-13, 2011, 19% from cell phones.  Margin of error: +/- 3.1 percentage points.  

SOURCE Lawrence Research